Robert Altman's valentine (may include minor SPOILERS)
The trailer for "The Company" is tantalizingly vague and compelling - flashes of dance and movement, hints of a ballerina's personal life (when we see Neve Campbell playing pool in a bar), the forceful projection of Malcolm McDowell as he instructs his troop, but no clear sense of what the film's story is about. And it turns out that the trailer is an accurate representation of the film. We see evocative imagery, brilliant dancing, and a forceful character presented by McDowell, but still leave without a clear sense of the story.
The film is presented as Robert Altman's film, and as director and co-producer, it's a fitting appellation. But as star, co-writer, and co-producer, the film is as much Neve Campbell's as anyone's.
Initially I sat through the film feeling a bit frustrated by the incompleteness of the story. But as time passed before I was able to write this review, it was able to gestate a bit, and I ended up feeling that Robert Altman and Neve Campbell deliberately and in some ways brilliantly deliver exactly the film they wanted.
The stories presented in "The Company" are frustratingly abbreviated. We see Josh (James Franco) first spot Ry (Neve Campbell) in the restaurant where he works, though she does not see him. We later see them in a bar - he covertly watches her while she plays pool. We don't see them meet - instead, the film flashes forward to them waking up together. The next scene with him has him entering her apartment with his own key. Clearly, time has passed and we have only seen flashes of their lives together, without the opportunity to watch the characters develop.
Other subplots are similarly condensed. We see a new dancer (John Gluckman) fumbling about trying to find his place in the Company - pleading to share a locker with another dancer, struggling to find an open spot on the bar, begging to sleep on a fellow dancer's apartment floor. A quick glimpse into the impoverished life of a new dancer, but no clear development, nor a clear resolution for that matter. In another storyline, we see the interactions between a gorgeous young dancer (David Gombert) and his over-controlling boyfriend (Yasen Peyankov, who is listed as his mentor in the credits, but the relationship seems so much more), but we fail to receive a complete picture of their story.
But in a way, it seems that these abbreviated stories are in fact intentional, meant more like sporadic snapshots into their lives rather than a complete film reel. And in that sense, the film mirrors the art it features. Dance, and ballet in particular, invokes emotions through color, movement, and sound. The stories told in a ballet are hinted at, suggested by the dancers' actions. Similarly, the film hints at the characters' stories through quick images, but without presenting a complete story. The audience is given a few points in time, and is left to connect the dots and complete the story themselves - just as we would at a ballet.
And the film presents just enough hints to be able to fill in those blanks, or at least some of them. We see how hard it is for Ry and Josh to stay together. They are separated continuously throughout the movie - when he has to work on New Year's Eve, when he's later separated from her across a crowded bar, when he's already asleep when she returns home, and ultimately, when he's trapped on the opposite side of the stage from her at the film's conclusion. But though the theme of being separated recurs throughout, in the end it seems to be about being able to surmount those obstacles to stay together. Though Josh is already asleep when Ry returns home on New Year's Eve, she is able to snuggle against him on the couch and fall asleep in his arms. Though they are separated across the stage, he is able to sneak across during the curtain call to be with her.
Ultimately, the main "character" of the film is the ballet company itself. A large portion of the film covers the company's dance rehearsals and performances with minimal plot development involved, and it's fitting that the film concludes with a curtain call for the ballet troop. Another reviewer wisely noted that in the end, the film is Robert Altman's love poem to the Joffrey Ballet (evidenced by four different renditions of "My Funny Valentine" that play throughout the film). And ultimately, that alone may be enough of a reason for this film.